Miami Beach residents were boarding up their windows Friday as the threat of Hurricane Dorian loomed, but one 75-year-old instead had all of her belongings thrown into the street behind her apartment in South Beach.
Times of crisis can bring out the best and worst in people — both of which played out Friday night as a Miami Beach community rallied together to help a neighbor as she was evicted from her home. Maria Cazañes has lived in her apartment on Euclid Avenue for 28 years, most recently inhabiting it with her 81-year-old brother Ricardo and her son Nelson. Neighbors said she is a nice woman who always offers water to others.
Cazañes was making herself a cafecito at home Friday night when her landlord arrived with Miami-Dade Police. Witnesses say the eviction was brutal: Cazañes, with her hands pressed together as in prayer, begged for one more day and pleaded to be able to get her shoes, phone, paperwork, and medicine. All the while, her landlord stood with his arms across his chest as his associates threw her belongings over the railing of the second-story apartment and onto the street.
"The hurricane is coming, and they just threw everything away," one neighbor told New Times. Another lamented that the landlord wouldn't even let Cazañes finish her cafecito.
The landlord could not be reached for comment; a phone number listed for him on the apartment building went to an Ocean Drive hotel, where a receptionist said she could not comment.
An average of 300 eviction notices are filed every day in Miami-Dade County, according to the Community Justice Project, a Miami-based organization that connects grassroots groups and disenfranchised communities with lawyers.
"We see this every day in Florida," says Alana Greer, the organization's cofounder and codirector. "Florida has incredibly weak eviction laws for tenants."
In cities such as Chicago, a moratorium is placed on evictions during periods of crisis like a major blizzard. But no similar protection exists for hurricanes in Florida. Greer says an entire community of Little Haiti residents was evicted when there was still no electricity after Hurricane Irma in 2017. Local organizations that year wrote a demand letter asking the state for a pause on evictions and deportations during natural disasters such as hurricanes.
"Evictions are a huge problem for our community regardless, but these emergencies really shine a light on how bad the situation can be for renters," Greer says.
Cazañes says that she went to pay her rent August 1 but that the landlord turned her away. She returned the following week and was again dismissed. She received paperwork in the mail and a notice on her door but didn't understand what they said — the eviction notices were in English, but Cazanas speaks only Spanish.
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"She's a good lady. She never had a problem with anyone," a witness told New Times. "And to take her out like that when a hurricane is coming? This is supposed to be a country of justice and compassion. Ay dios mio."
"It's heartbreaking," says Rafael Velasquez, a Miami Beach community activist running for city commission. "She's lived here for 28 years, and they dismiss her with Dorian on the way. It's unconscionable."
Velasquez was called to the eviction scene by a friend and quickly posted a video and information on Facebook. The news spread like wildfire, and more neighbors began arriving to lend a hand. The Miami Beach Police Department soon showed up and called the fire department to open the locked apartment door so Cazañes could retrieve her medicine and paperwork, as well as to rescue a number of animals trapped inside. Neighborhood children ran in and out of her apartment to round up her cats, which numbered at least six. Three turtles were found as well. MBPD also helped Cazañes and her family find beds at the Salvation Army homeless shelter in Miami.
Miami Beach sanitation workers arrived this morning to collect Cazañes' belongings.